Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rose Bertin and Marie Antoinette

In October 1773, marchande des modes Rose Bertin set up her boutique called "The Grand Mogol" on the fashionable rue Saint-Honore. The large windows were filled with artistic displays of hats, shawls, fans, silk flowers, laces, ribbons and accessories. The luxurious boutique was adorned with gilded moldings, fine oil paintings, and expensive furniture to complement the sumptuous displays of dresses trimmed with all the necessary accessories.

Bertin was known for her creativity and innovation, especially when it came to hats. She often introduced new styles and people were drawn to the shop to see her latest creations.

According to Marie Antoinette's femme de chambre, Madame Campan (who later wrote her memoirs), the fashionable Duchess of Chartes introduced Rose Bertin to the Queen in the spring of 1774. It did not take long for Marie Antoinette to become dependent on Bertin's taste. In fact, Marie Antoinette insisted on allowing Bertin to participate in her morning toilette ritual, which scandalized the court as etiquette had previously allowed only the most senior and favored courtiers to the ceremony. Marie Antoinette conferred with Bertin in a small chamber and then stepped out to greet her ladies in waiting. Nevertheless this change in the strict etiquette of the French court was viewed by courtiers with disdain, since they did not consider Bertin of sufficient rank to have such privileged access to the Queen.

Bertin capitalized on her close association with Marie Antoinette and labeled herself Marchande de Modes de la Reine. Each season, she would dress a poupee de mode (or fashion doll) and send it to Italy, Spain, England, Sweden and Russia. There was one doll that was endowed with the Queen's face, figure and hair and came with a complete wardrobe of formal court dress. Apparently, this doll caused such a frenzy in England that a satirist writing for the London Spectator "complained about women's inability even to concentrate on church sermons, so preoccupied were they with this doll".

To be continued....